The Naples City Attorney has warned city council members about what they may say at the March 25 special meeting on redevelopment plans for the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.
At Wednesday’s council meeting and in an email to Naples City Council on March 5, city attorney Jim Fox warned council members about making statements showing they had already taken a decision on the plans for the Beach Hotel project.
Such statements could “open the door to a claim that you are wronged before you have actually seen all of the facts and circumstances,” Fox told the council.
The Athens Group still needs City Council approval of its recreation plan and a subdivision plan, Athens Group COO Jay Newman said in an email.
The Athens group also needs demolition and construction permits and the project’s exterior design must be approved by the city’s design review board, Newman said.
If a judge determines the city council was prejudicial, he or she may have the ability to overrule the city council’s decisions, Fox said.
“I would ask you not to speculate, not to take a position, not to state what you’re going to vote on, or not to vote on anything that might happen to you in the future,” Fox told City Council on Wednesday. .
“You certainly have the right to ask questions about the facts, but be very, very careful to keep an open mind until all the evidence is presented, in which case you are free to express your opinions on the evidence. you’ve heard and about the law.
Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Fox sent an email to city council on March 5 detailing “serious concerns” about council drawing conclusions about the developer’s plans.
The email, obtained by the Daily News, came two days after the board earlier this month unanimously decided to hold a special meeting on the developer’s plans for the project.
At the March 3 meeting, members of the public made comments to City Council expressing concerns about the Athens Group’s plans for the hotel’s golf course and additional recreational and open space.
Community members highlighted a sales brochure that developers circulated for luxury condominiums that shows plans for a sports park and a reduction in golf holes from 18 to 10 holes.
Fox emailed the city council saying he wasn’t comfortable with members “making judgments and then announcing those judgments based on a sales brochure.”
“I have serious concerns about the City being asked to comment on a sales sketch with little or no cold hard factual detail of the nature and type found in an investigation, sight plan , a construction plan, etc.,” Fox wrote.
In the email, Fox went on to say he was concerned that the city could be accused of not doing its job and that any statements from members of the city council before Athens submitted its plans “could constitute evidence. bias – the formation of conclusions and opinions before the actual facts and observations have ever been submitted.
“Then, when the actual petition arrives, (the) petitioner will have reason to argue that the city was biased and formed opinions before they even saw the actual facts and submissions,” Fox wrote. “Please don’t let Athens drag you into a problem they created that has caused so much understandable consternation.”
Newman said The Athens Group saw an email from the city attorney expressing concern about the city council’s comments on the proposed recreation development plan.
“We are actively reviewing the concept with neighbors and other key stakeholders,” Newman said. “Once we complete this process, we will revisit the plan, make any necessary changes, and file an application for city review, review and approval of the plan.”
Asked about the content of Fox’s email to City Council, Newman said it was “not appropriate” for The Athens Group to comment on the legal adviser.
Newman said Thursday that the Athens group is awaiting news from the city on the agenda for the March 25 meeting and how it will be organised.
“We hope to be invited to participate appropriately in the meeting,” Newman said.
On Wednesday, members of the Naples City Council asked Fox for advice on what their role should be at the next special meeting.
Councilman Ray Christman said he viewed the meeting as an opportunity for residents to bring their concerns to council.
“My view on this and why we are doing this is that I work for the citizens of Naples. I work for the residents,” Christman said. “I think there has clearly been a growing bushfire there in terms of residents upset over issues regarding this project. Whether it’s based on facts or rumors, it’s real.
The Athens-based group plans to raze the beach hotel and build a five-star, 220-room resort, as well as “best-in-class” residential condos on both sides of Gulf Shore Boulevard. Recreational facilities would serve condo owners, as well as hotel guests, and would be available to the community at large and other visitors.
In 2019, when Naples City Council approved the hotel’s redevelopment plan, the council agreed to accept an easement from the Athens Group that would allow the city to preserve the golf course as a space green open.
The current 2020 Naples City Council has hired a Tallahassee law firm to review and strengthen the easement that would preserve the golf course.
Athens Group’s purchase of the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club property is scheduled for the end of May.
The Watkins family has owned the hotel for decades.
Laura Layden, a reporter for the Naples Daily News, contributed to this report.